A few years ago, I wrote a blog post for Valentine’s Day titled “to all the Boys I’ve ever loved” inspired by the Netflix series of the same name.
In that post, I shared small letters of reflection, admiration and gratitude to the boys I had loved up until that point and of course, at the time.
It’s such a silly, cheesy and overly romantic post that I enjoyed writing. Looking back at it now, I can’t help but laugh because, at that time of writing, I thought that I had love all figured out.
But I later found that love and relationships are more complex than what I wrote in that post.
It’s almost midnight. Despite my poor sleep, I’m wide awake. Perhaps it was all the coffee I had just to function during the day, which is cursing me now at night.
The splitting headache, restlessness and anxious energy in my body was a stark reminder that I’m still growing up and know nothing at all about most things …but especially about love. When I was years younger I swore I knew more, funny right?
When I think about love, I think about the times others — not just romantic partners necessarily — have cared so much for me that I felt their love transfer to me in every action they took.
An ex used to ask me if I had eaten yet, and if I hadn’t, he would reach into his bag and hand me a snack they packed for me in the first place.
A friend flew to me when I wasn’t in a good mental space.
Another ex would hype me up when imposter syndrome hit and reminded me that I could do anything because I’m Pawlean, spelt that way.
My mum would leave me my favourite smoothie in the fridge with my initials written on a note just before she left early for work.
Another friend on the other side of the world would listen to my 15-minute voice note and address every point I shared.
With every fragment of love I wholeheartedly received, the safer I felt and as a result, the more confident, open and optimistic I became in every aspect.
I recently came across a tweet thread (or an X, whatever you call it) where founders were thanking their partners for being there for them. They credit their love and support as one of the things that kept them going in the gruelling start-up world.
I relate in a way.
I’ve always openly credited an ex who sat through the wild ride of tough moments as I went through countless rejections when I was getting started in tech. He was not just there for me at the beginning but throughout the years of figuring things out without a “traditional” technical background and as I transitioned to my dream role. He was in the front seats at all my talks, capturing videos of me to remind me how “I killed it” despite my shaky voice.
Love is not the cute couple shots on Instagram, the butterflies of the first dates or the gifts on birthdays. It’s the commitment to the work that comes with relationship building. It’s caring so much about the other person, not just about yourself and your benefits in the duo.
The 1,825~ days with him taught me this, and I find myself over a year on returning to this with a grateful heart. I only hope I communicated this feeling at the time, and if not (at least enough), the internet void can have it forever.
I’m sure that there are many examples just like this in other people’s worlds too, but the core message is clear: love is the answer. Those cheesy love songs were right!
On the other side of the coin, not feeling loved, supported or appreciated can cause a build-up of resentment and anger. Unfortunately, I know this all too well because I’ve been trying to face the mirror more often these days. I’ve seen it in myself: how much resentment can be this ridiculously strong force that causes the inevitable downfall of a relationship.
I recently dated someone for a while who had called me stupid multiple times, hardly complimented me and made me feel shame for being who I am. I felt unsafe not just around them, but in myself as I believed every single word mocking my intellect and the silence of compliments in order to “keep me grounded.”
There were multiple occasions where they not only made me question my sanity but also the very existence of love.
Who could put someone through so much of that mental torment if they could love?
As I’ve been on this journey of figuring out who I am again after losing myself in the last year, I’m reminded that the most important love of all is the one we have with ourselves.
That could take form in many ways: from appreciating and accepting who we are to finally walking away from that energy-sucking freeloader.
I’ve questioned love a lot recently, and I sometimes lose hope altogether. But I’m hanging tight on the trust and optimism that one day, in a romantic relationship, it’ll begin again.